Commonwealth Journal

April 25, 2013

Somerset creating its own Tourist Commission

City to impose new 1% transient motel room tax

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Somerset City Council has given first-reading approval to an ordinance that would establish a Somerset Tourist and Travel Commission and levy a 1 percent transient tax on guests at lodging places in the city. 
The 1 percent levy would be on top of the 3 percent transient tax currently levied by Pulaski Fiscal Court.
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler said the council is in the process of establishing a tourist and travel commission because of a need to promote conventions to benefit restaurants and motels in the city. Also, he said Somerset has been excluded from the Somerset-Pulaski Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“It is a Pulaski County Convention and Visitors Bureau ... Somerset is not included,” said Girdler.
Asked when city council will give second-reading to the ordinance, Girdler responded: “IF WE DO give it a second reading.” 
The mayor said he still prefers a joint commission with the county. He indicated there have been meetings with the county about the issue without satisfactory responses.
Girdler said he believes a Somerset Tourist and Travel Commission would have no connection to or effect on the county’s transient tax or convention and visitors bureau. The mayor estimated a 1 percent transient tax in the city would generate between $25,000 to $30,000 a year.
The Somerset-Pulaski Convention and Visitors Bur-eau during the 2011-12 fiscal year collected $327,601.28 in transient taxes. The year before, $294,748.60. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said 1,290,000 people vacationed in Pulaski County during the 2011 fiscal year.
Girdler was reminded that timing of the council’s action on tourism may be perceived as part of the mayor’s harsh reaction to a current effort to conduct a study of benefits of a unified city-county government.
“Of course it will, but it definitely is not connected,” said Girdler. “The ordinance (given first reading Monday night) was written more than a year ago.” The mayor said the state for the past 20 years has allowed cities to levy a 1 percent transient tax to promote conventions. Somerset up to now has not done it,” he noted.
Lauding the magnificence of The Center for Rural Development, Girdler pointed out its attraction as a convention center. He said money generated by the 1 percent transient tax would be used to promote events at The Center.
“Now that we have ABC (legal sales of alcoholic beverages), new restaurants and businesses we need to attract conventions and bring in customers,” Girdler said. “And it won’t cost city taxpayers a cent,” he added.
A total (city-county) transient tax of 4 cents in the city is much lower than in other tourists areas, Girdler pointed out. He noted that Burnside has a similar tax.
“Our position is that we (Somerset) have been excluded ... and we no longer will be excluded,” Girdler declared. “We have not been invited to partner with the Somerset-Pulaski Convention and Visitors Bureau. We have been only a token ... we don’t have a place at the table. This (Somerset Tourist and Travel Commission) is the only we can be involved.”
A tourist and travel commission in Somerset would not need a staff,” Girdler noted. He said in the future several city departments, including Somerset Downtown Development Corporation, may be rolled together as one, and city employees would operate the commission.
Carolyn Mounce, executive director, Somerset-Pulaki Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been out of town this week and is not familiar with the city’s action in relation to forming its own tourism commission or levying a transient tax.
“Talking with the Commonwealth Journal by cellular phone, Mounce said she has had telephone calls with second-hand information, but knows nothing first-hand about the city’s action. Mounce is former Somerset Mayor J.P. Wiles’ sister.
She explained that the 3 percent transient tax which finances tourism promotion in Pulaski County was enacted by Pulaski Fiscal Court and is collected by the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The tax is collected from all lodging facilities in Pulaski County including those in the city.